As women, especially as mothers, we often experience anxiety as a normal part of life. Whether chasing a fearless toddler or handing the keys over to a new teenage driver, anxiety is a part of our daily life. Sometimes, however, anxiety can go into overdrive and affect our daily lives negatively. At times, that anxiety becomes an anxiety disorder that can be difficult to overcome without some support (be it medicinal or communal). Whatever the case, if you are here, you are probably concerned that your anxiety may be getting out of hand and it is important to know when to seek help.
Signs and Symptoms
There are different kinds of anxiety disorders but they share many common symptoms. And while gender differences are thought to apply they are not yet widely understood. Here are some signs of anxiety in women:
- Feeling restless or on edge
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep issues (trouble falling or staying asleep)
- Easily fatigued
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty controlling worries
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Dry mouth
If you have several of these symptoms for a period of weeks and they interfere with your daily life, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Understand that this is not because of some weakness on your part or due to something you have done wrong. It takes strength to recognize when you need help and it is an important step for you and your family.
A Real Life Example
Maybe you are like me and you have generalized anxiety. I can be sitting drinking coffee (not the best idea for someone with anxiety) and I’m feeling just fine. Out of nowhere I can get a rush of adrenaline (my first clue) and then I feel short of breath and this gross feeling crawls around to my back where it seems to take up residence for the duration of this anxiety attack.
Perhaps you are exhausted at the end of the day and want nothing more than to crash into your pillow and sleep your cares away. This is when my brain decides it’s a good idea to go over our grocery list, or tomorrow’s schedule, or today’s unfinished to do list. Or, if it is feeling particularly nasty, we will ponder all the ways we failed or will fail or why the things we want to do are stupid. Yeah, it’s a real drag. In my experience, which is vast, it seems moms are plagued the most by this type of thought in the stillness of the night.
We have so many hats we try to wear each and every day because somewhere along the way we thought that moms are supposed to everything to everyone at all times (especially stay at home moms!) and in heels! Okay, so I never pulled off the heels, maybe a sandal wedge here and there but let’s be real. The point is, while society is getting much better about this, some of us are still stuck in the old ideas of super moms who never need for anything. This is a model that sets us all up for failure. I took that to heart for many years (I no longer do). Not only is it not sustainable, it is dangerous!
A New Model
One of the most important things you can give your kids is a healthy mom. It is not selfish, it is not frivolous to practice good self-care. Something I have learned is you will function better in your whole life when you care for your body and mind like you would do for your kids.
The change for me started when I asked myself a question: What would I say if I were talking to my daughter, instead of to myself? My whole tone changed. I realized just how hard I was on myself. My anxiety was somehow a weakness or a punishment or just in my head. That’s how I used to see it. When I began to treat myself with kindness as I would my daughter, things changed for me.
In my case, I needed medicinal intervention. Originally I tried all the tips and tricks to overcome anxiety and while they were helpful, they weren’t enough in this case. I was also going through a bit of an identity crisis after graduating from college and trying to find my corner of the world and my children were suffering their own issues too. I was spent. I went to my doctor and got an anti-depressant.
Regardless of your thoughts on medicine, it can be life-saving for some. And don’t panic if you aren’t really thrilled about pharmaceuticals, there are plenty of alternative ways to treat anxiety. What works for some may not work for others so try various things and see what works for you. (Talk to your doctor about all of it though). I call this “throwing spaghetti at the wall”. The idea is to see what sticks.
Treatment and Management Options
Okay, so you got this far and you are thinking maybe your anxiety is out of control right now and you might have an anxiety disorder. Don’t worry! There are many ways to treat and manage anxiety. I will preview some of first steps here.
- Talk to your doctor – This should be your first step. Your doctor can talk to you about everything from lifestyle changes to medication and they can address your concerns.
- Listen to your body – A stressed body needs more sleep. Work on creating a routine and allow for more sleep (easier said than done, I realize) wherever possible.
- Exercise daily – Even a few minutes of walking each day can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety. You don’t have to run out and buy a gym membership, just take a few minutes to exercise even by taking the stairs over the elevator.
- Eat properly – Eat well-balanced meals and don’t skip. Your body is working hard right now and you need to fuel it properly to better manage anxiety.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol – Ohh this one is hard. I love my coffee, but caffeine and alcohol can be triggers for anxiety so try to limit them, or even better, cut them out. I started by mixing my coffee grounds (espresso and decaf dark roast) to make a half-caff step.
- Talk to someone – Even opening up to a friend or two is a good start. Being willing to talk about our struggles can help us feel less alone. You may be surprised to learn your friends struggle too.
- Get help online – There are places online where you can learn more and talk to someone about your anxiety. This is especially helpful if you are not quite ready to talk to anyone in your personal life yet. Anxiety and Depression Association of America has links to free online therapy and peer support. Check them out.
There is a lot more to be said on treatment and management options for women with anxiety but this is enough to get started. As I stated above, talk to your doctor, even if you don’t plan on taking medication.
Tying it All Together
You made it! Just by reading this article you have invested in yourself and have begun your journey to good self-care. When considering the signs of anxiety in women, treat yourself as you would your daughter, or even your own mother. We are just as human as they are and as humans, as women, we need to take care of each other, which starts with taking care of ourselves. Don’t play down your symptoms, take them seriously and do something about them.
When you invest in yourself you will begin seeing changes, not just in your own life but in the lives of those around you. As a woman and as a mother, you have a lot of lives linked with yours. Your children will learn by watching you and if they see that you are human and even moms sometimes need help, they will be more likely to allow someone to help them when they need it.
Managing anxiety can be a long road but there is hope. It does get better.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Manage Stress and Anxiety
National Institute of Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders
WebMD: What Are Anxiety Disorders?